Patricia Bacon, Blood Ties executive director, talked to city council Dec. 4 about placing five tiny homes on a lot which the organization purchased on Sixth Avenue in October, to create permanent housing for its clients. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Blood Ties Four Directions eyes tiny home project for Whitehorse

‘It’s designed to feel like a community’

Blood Ties Four Directions wants the City of Whitehorse to approve rezoning of a property at Sixth Avenue and Jarvis Street for a planned tiny home project for vulnerable people.

The not-for-profit, which purchased a lot at 6140 Sixth Avenue in October, wants to place five tiny homes on the property to create permanent housing for its clients, who often experience homelessness, poverty and health issues. The lot is currently zoned for a maximum of four tiny houses.

Blood Ties Four Directions advocates for and supports people in the community with HIV, AIDS or Hepatitis C.

“Our clients tend to be displaced from housing and excluded from the rental market,” said Blood Ties executive director Patricia Bacon. “The goal of the (project) is to simplify clients’ lives and allow them to live in comfort and dignity.”

According to a 2017 survey, Bacon said, 256 people in Whitehorse experience or are at risk of homelessness. Of those people, 44 are “absolutely homeless and living on the street.”

Bacon said that rezoning the property to allow five units would create “better economies of scale” for the project. The units will be rented at a subsidized rate, and having the fifth unit means Blood Ties can pay back the $200,000 loan it took out to purchase the property faster, while still allowing for the “financial wiggle-room” to pay for services and upkeep of the properties.

Blood Ties is also seeking that the city waive a requirement that new multi-unit developments in the neighborhood have class one bicycle parking, which would mean building bike storage into each of the individual units, she said. This is simply not practical, she said, for tiny homes where space is at a premium.

“This is a little different than a large-scale condo development,” said Coun. Roslyn Woodcock. “So maybe (the bike parking) is something we can let go.”

Coun. Dan Boyd was concerned that rezoning and waiving bike parking requirements might “set a precedent for the neighborhood” for future development.

Mike Ellis, the city’s senior planner, said “each amendment is decided on a case-by-case basis and (the city) does not consider precedents,” when making these decisions.

The project comes out of an earlier, successful single-unit tiny home run by Blood Ties, the Steve Cardiff house. That tiny home was on a lot owned by a developer between 2012 and 2016, until the owner asked that the tiny home be moved so he could build on the lot. The organization was unable to find another home for the Steve Cardiff house, and put it into storage, where it has been ever since, said Bacon.

“Our vision for the lot is to move the Steve Cardiff house to the lot … and complement it with four similar units,” Bacon said. “It’s designed to feel like a community.”

Clients originally lived in the Steve Cardiff house for up to one year. But in the new project clients will now be able to stay in the tiny homes “for as long as the program works for them,” Bacon said.

Bacon told councillors the reason Blood Ties removed the one-year cap was to take pressure off clients, many of whom have health issues which take time to resolve. This “is the best way to support vulnerable people,” she said.

“For many of our clients, their health needs are so great that just getting them stabilized takes more than a year.”

In an interview, Bacon said the project will be truly housing-first, meaning clients are not required to be sober as a condition getting housing.

“I’m really excited about the whole concept,” said Coun. Betty Irwin. “It’s a shame it will only take five people off the street…. Many people cannot afford the high rents in this city.”

Council will give the rezoning a first reading at the Dec. 11 meeting. If passed, it will receive a public hearing Jan. 15, 2018, with a final vote Jan. 29.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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